Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vintage Trailer of the Week 53

I've written here before about how I adore Elmore Leonard's Western writing; I think its his best material. Not nearly as dialogue-led as his Crime fiction - altough the dialogue is still tough and witty - his Western books and stories showcase his exceptional descriptive prose, fine storytelling and unmatched facility for creating brilliant villains and thoroughly impressive, capable heroes. My favourite of his Western books is Hombre, which was made into a terrific and seriously underrated film by director Martin Ritt in 1967.

Ritt and Newman were habitual collaborators at that time, with Hombre standing as their sixth - and last - film together (the most famous and celebrated of that series is probably the fabulous Hud (1963)). Ritt was a successful director for almost three decades but his reputation had declined since his death in 1990, perhaps because of the worthy, stolid nature of some of his more high-profile late work, particularly the likes of
The Front (1976) and Norma-Rae (1979) and the awkward stiffness of some of his earlier literary adaptations, such as The Sound and the Fury (1959) and the Newman co-starring Hemingways Adventures of a Young Man (1962). In this, he reminds me of Richard Brooks, a peer of his who liked risky literary adaptations (including films of Lord Jim, In Cold Blood, and The Brothers Karamazov) but whose gifts as a storyteller and technical expertise mean that his most lasting work is the genre material he occasionally lowered himself to, such as the Westerns The Professionals (1966) and Bite the Bullet (1975).

Similarly, Ritt's genre films are his most satisfying work. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965) is a brilliantly dour, grim LeCarre adaptation, and the best of his social issue films is the one with genre elements: labour dispute drama The Molly Maguires (1970) with its gripping undercover plot. But Hombre is a purer genre film and a tense, exciting, well-mounted cinematic experience all round. It has the classy cast and James Wong Howe photography of an Oscar contender, and a fine Newman performance at its centre too. Its one of the best Leonard adaptations - certainly the best version of one of his Westerns - which alone should make it compulsive viewing...

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